The Bucks County Framemaking Tradition

Before the Renaissance, all artists enjoyed the same level of recognition. As the period progressed, two tiers were created - the fine arts and the decorative arts. Painters and sculptors were elevated to the category of fine artists and began to sign their work. Decorative artists, including makers of furniture, frames, textiles, ceramics and glass did not usually sign their work and accepted a kind of second class status in the art world.

The Arts and Crafts Movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries heralded an unprecedented show of artistic solidarity and decorative artists began signing their work. There was a revival in the pre-Renaissance art of framemaking: carving, gilding and incising in woodworker’s studios. Interested students would apply for apprenticeship with a master of the trade and centers of handcrafted frames had sprung up in NewYork, Boston and Bucks County, PA.

A resident of Uhlerstown, PA, Frederick Harer (1879-1948) drew national attention to his skills by creating frames of exquisite beauty and extraordinary hand crafting (see detail to left). As Harer’s renown grew, talented students began to seek him out (many after their training at the PA Academy of the Fine Arts). His foremost apprentice, Bernard “Ben” Badura (1896-1986), established a reputation of his own that was nearly equal to that of his famous mentor.

The frames of Harer, Badura and others (like Raymond Vanselous, see frame to above right) became part of the American framemaking tradition and as such, are almost always included in national surveys and publications on the subject. They created frames designed to complement specific paintings. Many of their signed frames are still found today on the works of Garber, Redfield and other prominent Bucks County artists.*

Joseph Barrett, Dave Madary & Today’s Frame Artists

Pennsylvania framemaking lives on today, but is rapidly becoming a lost art as wood is scarcer, materials costs have skyrocketed and trained craftsmen are harder to find. The artists of the Silverman Gallery are interested in supporting this American tradition and use one-of-a-kind, hand-gilded frames whenever possible. Like the Bucks County artists before them, they order frames to be designed and made for specific pieces of art.

In particular, Lahaska, PA artist and antiques dealer Joseph Barrett crafts his own frames for his work. These metal-gilded, signed-by-the-artist frames are as recognizable as his paintings’ broad brush strokes and whimsical palette. Each a work of art unto itself, the incised details of Barrett’s frames extend and enhance the shapes, lines and folliage of his artwork.

Dave Madary, a New Jersey native, graduated from Kutztown University with a degree in graphic design. He began working for an antique and art collector, and was introduced to the New Hope art scene. Self-taught, he creates contemporary frames inspired by the beauty of early New Hope frame makers. Now a master craftsman, Madary frames add a unique dimension that is rare in today’s art world. Along with creating new frames, he also restores collector’s frames and wooden antiques. Dave resides in Topton, PA with his wife and two children.

*From Frederick Harer and the Bucks County Framemaking Tradition, by Erika Jaeger-Smith, “Exhibit Curator, James A. Michener Art Museum”, for Nouveau Magazine, Sept. 2007. Used by permission.